Fri, Jan 07, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Physicists push bike's limits with the `Einstein flip'


BMX stunt rider Ben Wallace 18, performs a 360 degree backflip at London's Science Museum on Wednesday to mark the launch of Einstein Year at the museum. Albert Einstein was a keen cyclist and it is claimed that inspiration for his theory of Special Relativity came while he was riding his bicycle.


They call it the "Einstein flip", the world's first bicycle stunt to be designed by a physicist.

Created with the help of computer modeling to mark the launch of Einstein Year, Britain's celebration of the world of physics, the stunt was devised to "push the boundaries of what is humanly possible on a bike."

Helen Czerski, a physicist at Cambridge University, England, who took time out from studying the finer aspects of explosions to work on the stunt, said: "What's unique in the case of the Einstein flip is that we started with the science."

Czerski used a computer to design different ramps and simulate a cyclist hitting them at various speeds to work out just what kinds of stunts might be possible. She came up with a rolling backwards somersault during which the rider tucks the bike underneath them while completely inverted.

"When I first started to calculate it, I didn't think it was possible," she said. "It's the landing that's the dangerous bit."

Yesterday, the dangerous bit fell to Ben Wallace, an 18-year-old from Portsmouth, England, and BMXer for Team Extreme, one of the world's top stunt teams.

When the moment came, he pulled it off flawlessly, somehow landing the right way up and still in control of the bike.

Technically, the stunt owes more to Isaac Newton than Einstein, relying on the conservation of angular momentum and laws of motion rather than any of Einstein's theories. Czerski's models showed that as long as Ben hit the ramp at around 32kph, physics would at least ensure he completed a full backward somersault.

For Ben, who has previously broken his collarbone, a finger and his ankle, just knowing that science said it was possible was enough.

"The first time it's as bit scary, but it gets easier. Knowing the physics of it helps because I know what's going to happen," he said.

Czerski commented: "It's one thing to come up with what can be done, but it's another to actually do it. I certainly wouldn't want to do it."

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